It was 61 years ago today (February 3rd, 1959) that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash after a performance in Clear Lake, Iowa. The three had been performing along with Dion & The Belmonts as part of the Winter Dance Party Tour, which would cover 24 cities in a short three-week period from January 23rd to February 15th. Holly, who had parted ways with longtime backing group the Crickets the previous year, was backed up by a then-unknown Waylon Jennings on bass, Carl Bunch on drums, and Tommy Allsup on lead guitar.
Dion DiMucci says that although the shows were always hot, his favorite moments from the tour were jamming on the near freezing bus on the way to the next town: “Well, we used to play in the back of the bus — Ritchie Valens, myself and Buddy Holly. The Big Bopper didn't join in, he sat in the front with his beer. But we would rock in the back of the bus. You talk about tapes — I wish there was a tape going on.”
Throughout the tour, the musicians' bus was either breaking down or often without heat. At one point, it was so cold that the tour's drummer developed frostbite, resulting in the Belmonts' Angelo D'Aleo — as well as Valens — serving double-duty by filling in on drums. When the tour finally arrived at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2nd, 1959, Holly had made plans to fly out to the next city directly after the show, rather than brave the unheated 430-mile bus trip to Moorhead, Minnesota. He had hoped to get to their next stop with time to rest and do his laundry.